SACRAMENTO, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — The new coronavirus variant first reported in the United Kingdom and recently discovered in Colorado has been detected in Southern California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
Newsom made the announcement while hosting Dr. Anthony Fauci for a virtual conversation about the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am not surprised that you have a case and likely more cases in California and we will likely be seeing reports from other states — Colorado was the first to do that. I think you are going to start seeing it because if you have that much of a prominence of this in the U.K. with all the travel not only directly to the United States but through other countries intermittently,” said Dr. Fauci. “I don’t think that Californians should feel that this is something odd, I think that’s expected.”
Fauci said there is a lot we know already about the new strain since the U.K. has been studying it and more information is coming in the days and weeks ahead to better understand it.
“The transmissibility of this mutant is more efficient than the transmissibility of the standard virus that we have been dealing with up to now,” said Fauci. “It’s able to bind to receptors on cells better and therefore is transmitted better.”
Health officials confirmed Wednesday afternoon that a San Diego County man has California’s first confirmed case of a new variant of the coronavirus.
Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a news briefing that the case was in a 30-year-old man with “no travel history,” who had been tested on Tuesday.
Because the man had not recently left the region, “we believe this is not an isolated case,” Fletcher said. He added that there is “significant evidence” that the new variant can “spread at a considerably faster (rate),” and urged people to stay home from any New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The news comes after Colorado officials confirmed Wednesday the first person in the U.S. known to be infected with the new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus was identified as a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak. And health officials said a second Guard member may have it, too.
The cases have triggered a host of questions about how the mutant version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
“The virus is becoming more fit, and we’re like a deer in the headlights,” warned Dr. Eric Topol, head of Scripps Research Translational Institute. He noted that the U.S. does far less genetic sequencing of virus samples to discover variants than other developed nations do, and thus was probably slow to detect this new mutation.
The case in California comes as the state ins consumed by a growing pandemic crisis, including record deaths.
Los Angeles County’s public health director said Wednesday the county has surpassed 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer said there have been 10,056 deaths and more than 7,400 people remain hospitalized with coronavirus in the county, with 20% of them in intensive care units.
The milestone came the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an “unprecedented” high of 432 reported deaths, a figure that was likely elevated due to a lag in reporting over the holidays.
Hospitals are increasingly stretched by soaring infections that are expected to grow in coming weeks. Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley have what is considered no intensive care capacity to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus. And state health officials remain worried about gatherings tied to New Year’s Eve.
But hope is on the horizon as vaccines roll out.
The statewide transmission rate has fallen to the point where one infected person is in turn infecting just one other individual, a development that Newsom called encouraging while warning that rates in central and Southern California remain much higher and the trend could reverse from holiday gatherings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.